In his book History In Our Time, David Cannadine introduces the chapter Welfare Monarchy with an insight on the three kings’ act of gift giving:
The second chapter of the Gospel according to St. Matthew records the most celebrated example of royal charity in human history… As this story makes plain, monarchs are customarily supposed to be vastly richer than ordinary mortals, and to give with truly regal generosity… But there was more to this mangered and magical moment than supererogatory royal beneficence… For there was also in it an implicit challenge and a reciprocal presumption…would eventually be matched by exceptional behavior on the part of the recipient… Monarchs this story reminds us not only make benefactions they also receive them – which adds a suggestively majestic connotation to the otherwise plebeian notion of ‘give and take’.
Following Cannadine’s insight, we now perceive more in the gift giving by the three kings to the King of Kings. We are now aware of virtuous acts at play: generosity seen in the royals’ concession to leave the power of their thrones and comfort of their palaces in order to make the arduous travel to a manger (not to mention the nagging doubt perhaps that they may or may not at all arrive at the correct address – how many mangers were there in the world then for goodness sake? – although there was that Star for assurance); confidence and faith – the three kings were confident their gifts will be accepted by the receiver who they were intimated is the King, Somebody beyond them, their Creator in fact; humility and joyful acceptance, on the part of the receiver, the King of Kings, who, despite having created the gifts presented, sees the representative value of the things and accepts them (and, following Cannadine, reciprocates with “exceptional behavior” – eternal protection for the gift-givers’ countries and people, who knows?).
The Feast of The Three Kings officially ends the Christmas Season. At the same time it also ushers in the beginning of the new year. For the virtues it encourages – generosity, confidence, joy, humility, and faith – how fitting that the celebration is both a season’s ending and a new year’s beginning.